Teachers share political beliefs in classes

Sophie Hafner, Staff Writer

Teachers were surveyed to see if they believe it is appropriate to share their political beliefs in their classes.

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The 2016 presidential election brought intense emotions to people all throughout the high school: excitement, disappointment and fear. Despite the wide range of reactions, students walked into the classroom either ready to express their feelings, or too frustrated or too scared to do so.

Many social studies classes took time to discuss the election, sometimes resulting in passionate and heated discussions. Teachers supervised the debates as students shared their unique perspectives.

High school students are the future electorate, so many teachers think it important to discuss politics in class, but there are varied opinions as to whether or not teachers should be able to share their own political beliefs; this can be a grey area. Though it is difficult to completely hide political views, many faculty feel it is important to remain impartial and give students space to form their own opinions.

Social studies teacher Marcie Miller led an informed class discussion on issues important to the election. According to Miller, it is necessary to include all sides when talking about politics.

“We’re about to create this next generation of voters who are turning 18.  If they don’t know anything about how the political system works, what the issues at stake are and all sides of the issues, then they’re not going to be able to be informed voters,” Miller said.

According to social studies teacher Noah Gronlund-Jacob, discussing politics in school is essential because it prepares students to speak about politics when they are adults. Gronlund-Jacob also thinks it is critical to recognize all perspectives.

“Whenever my classes talk about stuff like this I try to make sure any opinion that is justified with fact or supported with evidence is given equal weight. But if a student does introduce an idea that is based on faulty information or made-up information then I will clarify that and move on,” Gronlund-Jacob said.

Sophomore Sophia Mitnick said that many political debates in her classes are-one sided. She thinks it is still important to hear all perspectives, even those she might disagree with.

“People have a right to say whatever they want. I think an important way to know my own views is to have them challenged by other people. So it is good to get as many different perspectives as possible instead of a lot of aggressive disagreeing or competing to be the most liberal, which is sometimes what it feels like,” Mitnick said.

According to Gronlund-Jacob, sharing political beliefs is unavoidable in the classroom.

“I think one of the tricks to this is that teachers are people and we have personal opinions. It’s impossible to completely separate yourself, but if you recognize that you have those opinions, you can make sure that your lessons focus on the content.  The benefit of that is the students are able to take over the space, so that regardless of what the teacher thinks, the student becomes the presenter of the lesson,” Gronlund-Jacob said.

Mitnick said teachers should not share their political beliefs in class because it can alienate students in an already majority liberal town.

“I think they are supposed to remain as impartial as possible and they can do whatever they can to make people feel comfortable and try and promote positive views. But it should not be up to them to decide what we believe.  I think if them sharing their views is going to decide what we believe or somehow impact us without challenging us in a constructive way, then they shouldn’t be able to share their views,” Mitnick said.  

Miller said in class she is always up front about the fact that she is an independent but is open to all viewpoints.

“I think you have to be really careful because teachers are seen as role models and kids want to be liked by their teachers, so then they think that they need to have those views, and that just sets up a really bad teaching model. If we’re in an election, year I wouldn’t say who I voted for ever, because I think you subconsciously are influencing kids in a way that we want to make sure that we’re not. We want them to come up with these ideas themselves,” Miller said.

According to Miller, in the high school there has always been some fear in sharing conservative ideas.

“I remember being in the Martin Luther King room and overhearing two adults in the building talking. One said the world has to suffer now because this country is too stupid to know who to vote for. I stood up and said my parents voted for Bush, and I find that to be inappropriate for they are not stupid. It’s more important to ask why people voted the way they did then punish or shame them for their vote,” Miller said.

According to Miller this year the social studies department has discussed being very mindful in the sharing of information so as not to discredit or shame any beliefs and make sure all viewpoints are acknowledged.

“I think it’s inevitable that [because of] human nature some of those beliefs are going to come out very subtly. I think as teachers, since we have had so many discussions about this, we work hard to challenge ourselves to be more impartial so that we can teach in a way that is effective,” Miller said. “We don’t want to make the students little replicas of ourselves; we want to teach them to think and to care and be passionate.”